Indochine (film)

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French theatrical release poster
Directed by Régis Wargnier
Produced by Eric Heumann
Jean Labadie
Written by Érik Orsenna
Louis Gardel
Catherine Cohen
Régis Wargnier
Starring Catherine Deneuve
Vincent Pérez
Linh Dan Pham
Music by Patrick Doyle
Cinematography François Catonné
Edited by Agnès Schwab
Geneviève Winding
Paradis Films
Bac Films
Orly Films
Ciné Cinq
Distributed by Bac Films (France)
Electric Pictures (UK)
Sony Pictures Classics (US)
Release dates
  • 15 April 1992 (1992-04-15) (France)
  • 25 December 1992 (1992-12-25) (US)
  • 26 March 1993 (1993-03-26) (UK)
Running time
159 minutes
Country France
Language French
Box office $24,795,136[1]

Indochine is a 1992 French film set in colonial French Indochina during the 1930s to 50s. It is the story of Éliane Devries, a French plantation owner, and of her adopted Vietnamese daughter, Camille, with the rising Vietnamese nationalist movement set as a backdrop. The screenplay was written by novelist Érik Orsenna, scriptwriters Louis Gardel, Catherine Cohen, and Régis Wargnier, who also directed the film. The film stars Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Pérez, Linh Dan Pham, Jean Yanne and Dominique Blanc.


In French colonial Indochina, the unmarried Éliane Devries owns and runs a large rubber plantation with her father, which employs many indentured laborers, whom she casually refers to as her coolies. At the end of the 1910s she adopts a young girl from the Nguyễn Dynasty named Camille, after her parents die in a plane crash. Although Éliane is courted by the head of the French security services in Indochina, she refuses him, and she raises and educates Camille alone as a privileged European until her teens.

Just after she wins a wager against the Naval commander's sculling team, she encounters a young lieutenant in the French Navy, Jean-Baptiste Le Guen, at an auction bidding on the same painting. She is flustered when he challenges her publicly, and surprised when he turns up at her plantation days later, searching for the boy whose sampan he set ablaze for suspicion of opium smuggling. Soon they are enveloped in a torrid affair.

At leisure in the city, Le Guen witnesses the escape and shooting of a Vietnamese prisoner by a French police officer. Camille and her classmates had been walking nearby, and she is hit by the prisoner as he falls, knocking her unconscious and covering her with his blood. Jean-Baptiste brings her inside and cleans off the blood, cutting off her dress in the process and exposing her bosom. Camille awakens in his arms and immediately falls in love with him, believing that he saved her life. Word gets out of the "affair", and Camille is ridiculed at school.

Apparently through her connections with high-ranking officials in the navy, Madame Devries has Jean-Baptiste transferred to Haiphong to protect Camille from being hurt. Jean-Baptiste confronts Madame Devries about this at a Christmas party celebration at her place, and a loud spat ensues in which he slaps her on the face. As a result of his misbehavior, instead of being transferred to Haiphong, Jean-Baptiste is sent to a remote French military base in the north of Vietnam, on the notorious Dragon Island. When Jean-Baptiste arrives, he is greeted by the outgoing commanding officer, who says the French leadership hardly pays attention to this outpost; its sole function is to gather unemployed northern Vietnamese who seek indenture on plantations in the more prosperous southern Vietnam.

Against her better judgment, Madame Devries allows Camille to become engaged to Tanh, a young man who has studied in France and supports the Communists (expelled from France, because of his support for the Yên Bái mutiny) in 1930. The marriage is arranged by Tanh's wealthy, merchant mother. The day after the engagement, Tanh allows Camille to leave and look for Jean-Baptiste up north.

Camille travels with a Vietnamese family, and reaches Dragon Island. The family with whom Camille was traveling intended to go to Dragon Island to seek a term of indenture, but they are killed by a French naval officer. When Jean-Baptiste arrives on the scene and demands that the officer tell him what happened, the officer says that the family refused to be split up, and started inciting a riot by yelling communist slogans.

Jean-Baptiste sees Camille among the laborers and starts to lead her away. The French sailors do not object to this, thinking their superior is taking a "congaie", or Vietnamese mistress. However, upon seeing her traveling companions dead, Camille attacks the French officer, ultimately shooting him in the struggle. This puts a price on the heads of the couple.

Camille and Jean-Baptiste escape from Dragon Island and sail away through the Gulf of Tonkin for many days without food or water. Eventually, they come ashore and are rescued by a Communist theater troupe. The troupe takes them to a hidden valley where they are hidden in a large complex of buildings. Eventually, they must leave the valley because the Communists have other, more important people to hide. Tanh, now a high-ranking Communist operative, arranges for the theater troupe to smuggle the lovers into China. During this time, several months have elapsed and Camille has become pregnant with Jean-Baptiste's child.

Guy, the leader of the French police in the South—a friend and former suitor of Madame Devries—attempts to use operatives to put down the insurrection. Guy arranges for French agents to look for Camille and Jean-Baptiste in the North. They look up and down the Gulf of Tonkin but with no success.

Eventually, Guy realizes that traveling theater troupes may be behind many near-simultaneous insurrections in the north. He orders all theater troupes traveling in certain northern routes to be arrested. The troupes have brought attention to themselves, particularly performances by Vietnamese in whiteface hailing Jean-Baptiste as a hero rescuing actresses who play Camille.

One morning, when they are a few kilometers from the Chinese border, Jean-Baptiste takes his and Camille's newborn son Étienne to baptize him in a river while Camille is sleeping. Jean-Baptiste finishes baptizing his baby, only to see several French soldiers with their rifles aimed at him. With her husband captured, Camille is forced to abandon Étienne and Jean-Baptiste, and escape with the theater troupe. Remanded to Saigon, French authorities throw Jean-Baptiste in jail, but give Étienne to Madame Devries.

Jean-Baptiste spends time in prison and does not speak with anyone. Eventually, however, he agrees to talk if he can first see his son. The Navy (who has ultimate authority on the case, refusing to subject Jean-Baptiste to interrogation from the police) plan to court-martial Jean-Baptiste in France to avoid the public outcry that would likely arise from a trial in Indochina; allows Jean-Baptiste 24 hours to see Étienne and settle his affairs before leaving for France. Jean-Baptiste goes to see Madame Devries, who allows him to care for Étienne for one night at her other house, in Saigon.

The next day, when Madame Devries arrives at the house to pick up Étienne, she discovers Jean-Baptiste lying in bed, shot dead in the temple, gun in hand. Étienne is safe in the bed next to him. Madame Devries is outraged, telling Guy that she suspects the police. However, Guy's girlfriend tells Madame Devries that the Communists probably killed Jean-Baptiste, to keep him quiet. The root of the killing is never revealed, and Jean-Baptiste's death is eventually ruled a suicide.

Camille is captured and sent to a high security prison that does not permit visitors. Not even Guy can free Camille and he confides to Madame Devries that Camille's only chance for getting through that prison is to be a dedicated communist. Madame Devries lobbies government officials for Camille's freedom, to no avail. After five years, the Popular Front comes to power and releases all political prisoners, including Camille. Madame Devries goes to the prison to take Camille home. However, rather than return home to her mother and son, Camille resolves to join the Communists to fight for her country's independence. She does not wish for her son to know the horror she has witnessed, and tells her mother that French colonialism is waning.

Madame Devries sells her plantation to Tanh's mother. Madame Devries and Étienne return to France.

Years later, Madame Devries tells Étienne the story of his mother. Madame Devries takes Étienne to Geneva, where his mother Camille apparently is a communist (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) delegate to the Geneva Conference. Étienne goes to the hotel where Camille is staying, but he cannot bring himself to go to see her. He waits for her in the lobby, but she does not come. He recounts this to Madame Devries and tells her that she is his mother.

The next day, French Indochina becomes independent from France. Vietnam is partitioned into North and South Vietnam leading to the Vietnam War.



The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Catherine Deneuve received a nomination for Best Actress - her only to date. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.


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